Texas Doles Out Extreme Punishment For Possessing Miniscule Amounts of Drugs

Texas Doles Out Extreme Punishment For Possessing Miniscule Amounts of Drugs

By Britni de la Cretaz 10/19/16

Around 16,000 people in Texas were incarcerated in 2015 for possessing one gram or less of a drug. 

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Texas Doles Out Extreme Punishment For Possessing Miniscule Amounts of Drugs

The War on Drugs is failing, and nowhere is this more evident than in Texas.

A recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) details the effects of the criminalization of drugs on American citizens. The effects include both financial and human costs that are almost too great to measure. In fact, it found that someone in the United States is arrested for the simple act of drug possession every 25 seconds.

An incarcerated man in Texas who was given the pseudonym “Matthew Russell” was interviewed for the report. Russell is serving "15 years in state prison for possessing an amount of methamphetamine so small that the laboratory technician couldn't even measure it," according to Business Insider.  This small amount is considered a “trace” amount of drugs, and because Russell had previous felony convictions on his record, he received a long prison sentence.

The report also cites Bill Moore, who is serving a three-year sentence for 0.0202 grams of methamphetamine, and Hector Ruiz, who was “offered six years in prison for an empty bag that had heroin residue weighing 0.007 grams,” according to the ACLU/HRW report.

The report states that 16,000 people in Texas were incarcerated in 2015 for possessing one gram or less of a drug, and that 116 prisoners in Texas are serving life sentences for drug possession—seven of whom possessed between one and four grams. Nationwide, police make more arrests for drug possession than for any other crime, and these arrests disproportionately affect black and brown communities.

The data from Texas is astounding. In 2015, more than 78% of people sentenced to incarceration for felony drug possession in the state possessed under a gram, according to the report. It continues, “Possibly thousands more were prosecuted and put on probation, potentially with felony convictions. In Dallas County, the data suggests that nearly 90% of possession defendants sentenced to incarceration were for under a gram.”

These findings indicate that folks are being punished for being drug users and, in many cases, struggling with the illness of addiction. For his part, Russell admits to using drugs but says he wasn’t in possession of them on the day of his arrest. He told the authors of the report, "Am I guilty of being a drug user? Yes, I am. Did I use drugs the day before? Yes, I did. I admitted that. But I didn't have any drugs on me. I shouldn't be here."

The new report calls for the decriminalization of all drugs as a human rights issue.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.

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